Science Vs Ethics
Ethical issues can arise when carrying out important research studies due to developing conflicting values between the researcher’s requirement to carrying out a scientifically valid piece of research, and the need to protect the rights of the participant(s) involved. To consider the cost-benefit analysis ( finding a balance between the scientific benefits of the research versus the ethical costs of the procedure) is one way to evaluate this ongoing conflict, however, many people find it difficult to agree on just exactly what the ‘right balance’ is.
Milgram’s study on obedience is a great example of a study which brought scientific benefits at the cost of being frequently criticised for the many ethical issues which arose. If you are unfamiliar with this particular study carried out by Milgram, you can read up about it on the following website: http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/a/milgram.htm
So, what scientific benefits did Milgram’s research bring to psychology?
Milgram’s obedience study led to a large number of subsequent studies which is very desirable within psychology as such replications allow enhancement of our understanding of particular behaviours. Furthermore, the findings from the study were counter-intuitive due to the fact that the initial interviews carried out by Milgram suggested that people would not be willing to obey unjust orders, but the results displayed the importance of situational factors.
But, such advantages of the study came at some major ethical costs…
During Milgram’s obedience study critics have suggested that participants suffered psychological harm and had a lack of right to withdraw. Participants showed anxiety as they were observed to ‘sweat, tremble and stutter’ and despite being told at the beginning that they could stop the experiment at any time, they were urged to continue throughout the procedure through prompts that told them they ‘must continue’, therefore making the task appear to be involuntary and pushing the participants to make stressful decisions unwillingly.
So was this an equal balance of scientific benefits Vs ethical costs?
How far can ethical boundaries be pushed in search of great science?
I believe that, within reason, there should be less restrictive ethical boundaries within psychology. Without these restrictions, psychologists could put their full effort and attention into their studies and draw out far greater scientific findings.
However, when questioning just how far too far is, in terms of ignoring ethical guidelines, I believe that there is no standard response. Yet in my opinion, a research finding which creates more harm to people than it does benefit, is not a useful finding at all.
Thanks for reading!
Feel free to comment/constructively criticise/discuss,